Every military family has a stash of curtains purchased for odd window sizes in a previous home. But today’s guest, interior design expert and Army spouse Maria Reed, has built an expertise out of saving families undergoing their latest military Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move from bad curtains and misfit furniture.
In this episode, Maria shares her best advice for creating a living space that can move with you, no matter the size of your home or shape of your space.
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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of PCS with Military.com.
Amy Bushatz 0:00
Maria Reed is a woman of many, many skills. She's a video director and producer creating commercials for all sorts of household brands. She is an Army wife and a winner of the Armed Forces Insurance Army Spouse of the year. She's the co-founder and CEO of the Inspire-Up Foundation. And she's the brains, design and engine behind the wonderful military focused home makeover series Moving With the Military. It's on that series that Maria and her team of awesome volunteers and designers surprise military families with makeovers for individual rooms, or sometimes their entire homes. And who doesn't love a home makeover show? But to do that, Maria has to have a special skill, one that I do not possess: home decorating. When it comes to PCSing, getting your new home set-up is the icing on the military move cake. We joke that home is where your stuff is, but it just doesn't feel like home until everything is set up where it belongs. And yet, we also know that there are some tips and tricks to this stuff. Why else do we all have a huge pile of odd sized curtains moving with us from location to location? Today, Maria is going to help us understand how we can make our military move successful by thinking about interior design for a truly accessible, easy to apply way. Maria, welcome to PCS with Military.com.
Maria Reed 1:21
Hello, thanks for having me. Like, wow, that was pretty amazing.
Amy Bushatz 1:27
Okay, well, I mean, you do something that to me is like looking at math. What is the magic here? How does this work?
Maria Reed 1:38
I feel the same way about math. So I totally get it.
Amy Bushatz 1:42
So we're leveling, good. Okay, so first, talk about your own military move experience. How many times have you personally moved with or without the military?
Maria Reed 1:51
And I'm glad you say it with or without the military because I actually moved more before I became a military spouse. So in total, I have about 17 moves. Oh, of that only six with the military. But when I hear sometimes, like, oh, I've moved 22 times with a military career, I'm just like, wow, that just boggles my mind. Especially, you know, having small kids. Well, when they were small, but it's moving regardless whether it's military, whether it's it's within your civilian life, it's, it's a challenge, it is always difficult to pick things up and move them around. So I think I don't want to say I'm an expert, or that I've developed an art, but we have for our family. I think we've created a way that is very helpful and kind of streamlines that process.
Amy Bushatz 2:50
That develops a thick skin, I think.
Maria Reed 2:54
I would agree. Yes, thick skin, you you got to let things roll. And you've got to be flexible, flexible, I think is is the key word because things change things. You know, they just, you think you're getting orders to one spot, and then all of a sudden you're getting your spouse comes home with orders for somewhere else. So hey, flexibility is necessary. Absolutely.
Amy Bushatz 3:13
Okay, so I mentioned this in the introduction, but we need to talk more about my, these are my confessions, if you will. I am very, very bad at decorating. Maria. Sometimes I hang things on the wall, and it looks like oddly placed junk. Like, it's like, I'm not sure what she was going for there. Like it's just, it's not good. So how did you get so good at this? Really just born with the skill? Tell us.
Maria Reed 3:42
I don't think that I was born with the skill. I think that it has been a learned learned behavior over time. Now I've been in film and television and advertising for -- years, don't want to give away my age -- for a long time. And part of design in anything, whether you're designing, you know, magazines, layouts, I was a high school yearbook teacher. So you know designing yearbooks, and designing a home it all they all kind of fall within the same constructs of design, like what does design really mean? So there are some rules, even in photography, like the golden rule, the rule of thirds, where you place things where they fall within the frame. So I tend to look at home design the same way: it's a frame, I'm looking at this space, and where would things fall within that space that still apply to those design rules, if you if you will, rule of thirds is a great one to use. And not necessarily putting things in the center or putting them off to one or the other side. Using odd numbers as opposed to even numbers so three, you know 1, 3, 5, 7 all the sudden math just came into my head. I was like, oh, I'm scared. You know, but it was it's been over time. And it's been trial and error. I don't think I've always been good at it. Sometimes I still question it even in the middle of a makeover for someone else. I'm like, do I really want to do that? Is that really where that wants to go? Let me think about it. So, you know, it's, it really is a for me, it's kind of like a gut. And it's been a gut feeling and a learned behavior over time.
Amy Bushatz 5:29
Okay, so we're here on PCS with Military.com because we're looking to simplify and make better our military move lives. How can we like, where does interior design factor into that? How can we do that with interior design?
Maria Reed 5:45
Well, I think sometimes we hear quite often when we get orders to move, it's like, it's time to purge. Everything's got to go, it's got to get out of the house. That's my husband, it's his favorite thing to say. And I said, so what happens when we get to the next place? Are we going to spend money and buy it all? Again? You know, because I know there is that fear of, you know, your, your PCS moves are based on weight? So is it? Am I gonna go overweight? Am I gonna get charged? So I tend to, to declutter, and somewhat purge before every PCS, but not necessarily the big things. So it is a lot of do the kids still wear these clothes? Do we still use this? Can we get you know, out of that? But not, you know, let's dump the dining room table? Or let's get rid of this, this couch? Unless the couch needs to go, then? Of course it goes. But it's, it's thinking about those pieces beforehand. Is that going to work? So I often go into small and military housing isn't always very large. Right? But then I'll walk into a room where there's this ginormous sectional. And it takes up the entire space. Yes, we like the big sectional. But is it really gonna work? And then is it really gonna work in the next space? Because we have no idea what that next space is going to look like. So it's, I think it's making some choices that are more flexible. So not necessarily a big giant, sectional, but pieces of furniture that are flexible that can move around. Did that answer that question?
Amy Bushatz 7:23
It totally, it totally did. So what I hear you saying is that when you think about your interior design from a like, Okay, so my mistake is that I walk into a room and I think about it from the perspective of that particular room. What you're saying is to think about it more from a perspective of plug and play that you want to sort of acquire and then keep on hand, things that will fit into multiple puzzle schemes, instead of just for this one space, right?
Maria Reed 8:05
Because that one space is not going to be the same in the next house, it's going to look different, it's going to have a different layout, it could be bigger, it could be smaller. So when we think about our furniture choices, as like that's a perfect analogy is plug and play. Well, this work here cannot move there. And then we're able to have this flexible furniture design and flexible layout because and again, I know I'm harping on the sectional, I don't hate sectionals, let me just preface but they're they're difficult to work with if for example, you have a you know a left side sectional What if in your next house it does, it's not a left side, it has to be a right side. So if that that piece is flexible, it can go to either side, well hey, bonus, but but I see ourselves sometimes buying pieces because we like the piece. Like that thing. I really want that couch. But you know that 90 or 108 inch couch may not fit in the space that you have now nor the space that you may have. So when we think a little bit smaller, more pieces, if you will and a little more flexibility. I think that's very, very helpful.
Amy Bushatz 9:14
So do you I know you said you, you just said you don't purge the way a lot of people do with with the big stuff. Do you have the closet full of odd side curtains? Yes, I do.
Maria Reed 9:28
I do. I do. And one thing that I've I've kind of stayed away from is the 84 inch curtains which is the standard that is what you will find in most big box stores. But I tend to go to 94 inch not always the easiest to find. But it helps especially when your ceilings are lower. So if you got your standard eight foot ceilings, if you take those curtains up a little bit higher, makes the rooms feel bigger. So so I tend to have lots of odd not sized just lots of different odd colors, but 94 inch curtains that helps. So the the thing I do buy every time and I know this will sound crazy, but it's rods, because your windows are different.
Amy Bushatz 10:13
Okay, as you were thinking saying that I was thinking about the fact that I purchased from a much different way, right? I walk into a house and I see where are the curtains now and then I slap those bad boys on there it guys, it never occurred to me to move the rod.
Maria Reed 10:31
It's an illusion. It's actually it's like it's a photo trick. You're taking the eyeline up. So when you walk in the room, the room feels bigger. We don't know why it feels bigger. We're just like, why did this wizardry happen? How did this How did this magic happen? But it taking that up? It instinctively makes the room feel bigger because your eye line goes up. You don't like stop it at the window? So it's a trick. It's a trick like mirrors. They work?
Amy Bushatz 10:57
Yeah, oh, I'm learning so much. My poor husband is gonna be like, what are you doing in our house after this conversation, because we're not moving right now. But let me tell you what I'm about to get some redecorating on.
Maria Reed 11:15
Here's another quick tip, especially if you're not handy with tools and you don't want you know, you don't want to drill into the walls, you can actually take command strips, the larger ones, and take them like I said all the way almost to the ceiling. And then you can especially if you just want to check it out. You lady, the rod and the curtains. And you look take a look at it. Now the ones that can hold heavier weight. Those are fantastic. We've done that multiple times and not drilled a single hole.
Amy Bushatz 11:47
My mind is like I'm sitting here like my mind. It's like - mind blown. I told you guys, I'm bad at this. Okay. Moving can be dangerous on your stuff. Right? So we're talking about like tips and tricks and how to make things simple. How do you curate your home with items that you're fine with replacing if they're broken or missing? Because if you get like the perfect couch that moves with you everywhere, you're probably gonna spend a little bit on this. That's fine. And now womp womp.
Maria Reed 12:22
Yeah, I know that feeling well, I, I don't subscribe to them, my house needs to look like a Pinterest or Instagram worthy house from jump. And I know that. You know, some folks do feel that way. Like I've got to make it that way. I like to acquire things over time. I love I love to find the deal. I'm a thrift shopper. And I think even before I married my husband and gotten to this military life, I was that way. But even more so afterwards, because things do get broken. And I don't and I don't feel bad about it, because I didn't spend $5,000 on a couch. But I may spend you know $1,000, I'm just gonna throw numbers out there, on the couch, but that it has a washable cover, or that it's easily replaceable. And I don't feel feel bad I there's a part of me that doesn't hold on to those things. My memories are my family and what we do together as a family, not necessarily the stuff, the stuff is pretty. And I enjoy decorating and designing a home that fits our lifestyle. But it I think it's just bringing those pieces knowing that I didn't pay a whole lot for it makes it a lot easier to swallow when something does get damaged or broken.
Amy Bushatz 13:47
Yeah. What are some decorating items you think every military home should have?
Maria Reed 13:53
Well, okay, so one thing that we love to do is create I'm like, yo, she's talking my language now.
Amy Bushatz 14:01
Guys, here we go.
Maria Reed 14:03
There we go. I love to create what I call a command center. It's a one spot where everything goes, you know, like, I don't like walking in the door. And there's a big pile of shoes. No, not not for me. But we create a center where that's where the backpacks go. That's where all the notices go with Mom, I've got soccer on this day, we create an area where there is organization, there's shelving, there's drawers, and sometimes that's in a closet, or in a laundry room. You know, it depends on where we can find that space in the next home. But creating a command center really simplifies the go to place where I have to go what I have to do, and I think it really helps with kids, no matter where they go. And that's what our kids have said to us. They knew that there would be a command center somewhere and that that's where where everything would be where they would find all the details that they needed, you know, spare keys and whatnot. And you can make that in any way that you that you want or can see, that works for your family, we also had like a little rolling cart in there, so that we could move things out that needed to be moved out. And then we would have clocks that were different time zones, so that we would always know where daddy was, and what time it was where daddy was. So it kind of served this sort of deployment command center, multi purpose area, but it really helped to keep the keep the clutter down, because that's where things went, you know, everything has its place. And every place there is no such thing for that.
Amy Bushatz 15:39
I got the wheels turning over here, guys, we have, it's like you're seeing my my interior problem soul. So we're in Alaska, and people don't wear shoes in the house. And I thought that was really stupid when we moved here. But guess what, there's a good reason. And it's that you just track the dirt you track in and here is just because they don't salt the roads, they put gravel down. Oh, and so yeah, and so the tremendous amount of rocks, really, that get tracked into my house is just unbelievable. So we have the entrance from the end, it's too cold in the garage to do this in the garage. Because you know, it's like 45 in there. Okay, right. And then we just track in, like everybody's boots and shoes, and just piles and piles driving me insane. And then gloves and hats and just, you know, it's just this, everybody's stuff gets tossed right there. And it really does look like just piles of junk. It's unbelievable. But you know, we don't, I don't have a command center.
Maria Reed 16:51
So set up like a little command center mudroom kind of area there would be would be ideal. Yes. And then it just I think that just helps everyone sort of not feel like there's because I know I get overwhelmed when there's piles. And then I'll just get bigger because you don't want to tackle the pile. You're like, Oh, so the pile just keeps getting bigger or slightly moved over. So I don't see that pile, especially when I'm doing a zoom call. Let me just move that pile over here. Then no one will see that pile. But I think if we really start with organizing, and that's the first thing we set up after a PCS move. When we get there we set up that command center because there's so many things that are going to need to go there paperwork, you know, all the paperwork, you've got to sign for all your boxes and household goods. So just setting that up right away. That is super helpful gets everybody on track knowing what they need to do. I do also have lots of curtains because different colors but I tend I tend to buy my curtains neutral,my my partner in crime ... will tell you that one of my favorite colors is gray, because ... gray sort of it's neutral, it goes with everything but you do need to be kind of careful with gray because gray has undertone so it can be a green gray, a blue gray, a purple gray, just you know, neutral gray can be hard to find ... But I think things that are flexible and that can be used, my number one thing is to find a piece of furniture that doubles as storage there is never enough storage in military housing or otherwise. So if you have a piece of furniture that can also double as storage that is really helpful.
Amy Bushatz 18:49
Do you like do shop for you know you say you'd like to do thrift shops and I'm imagining you wandering the aisles of TJ Maxx and Home Goods probably out of jealousy because we don't actually have any of those stores here, and so if it doesn't have if they don't have it at Costco or Fred Meyer good luck to you friend so it is very sad for me, but I'm I'm imagining you wandering there and and you feel like you've struggled like -- bonanza you know when you find this stuff?
Maria Reed 19:21
Yes. And here is is because we do the show moving with the military we actually have to have a storage facility because I will find things and go I don't have a house to put this in right now. But I will so I'm gonna get this because this is amazing. And I think we've got to look at it pieces that way that when we find them and I'm guilty of it sometimes where I say no, you know, it'll be there. I'll just come back. And my husband always says get it now because it won't be there especially in stores like TJ Maxx and Home Goods. There's their one offs you you got this one to get it but you know, I tried Not to over buy for ourselves, but then totally over buy for the shelf because it will go somewhere.
Amy Bushatz 20:40
So what are some easy ways I can decorate in a way that translates to most new homes? Like is there? You mentioned sectionals being like the great Satan of couches, even though they're tremendously comfy, but they're not very good. Being, you know, moving around. So what? What should I get? What, tell me what to buy?
Maria Reed 21:07
What to buy? So, the first thing is, is know what your aesthetic is? What do you like? Are you modern? Do you like color? Are you a farmhouse kind of gal? Are you rustic? You've got to figure out a little bit of what you are. And then my answer is I'm a little bit of all of it. I like it all. So how can I incorporate a little bit of all of those things into my decor, I work very hard to try and make that happen. Sometimes not so much. But if we were going to just say what can I do to get started and how can I really, you know, set a simple plan, stay neutral, don't go out and buy that you know, hot pink couch, or that that purple chair, because tomorrow, you may no longer like it, it may not work with other pieces. So if you stay neutral in your larger pieces, again, going into the grays and beiges and whites, you know, you stay in those colors, then you can accent with those pops of color, the purples, the reds, the greens, the whatever you want to add to that. So I would find pieces that are neutral. And when I mean flexible, it would be for me a sectional but it would be a couch and chairs that way. And let's say like an ottoman, that Ottoman works as a coffee table. But it also works as additional seating if I need to have it. So all of these pieces can move around, depending on family needs friends that are over events that you're having. So you have that flexibility.
Amy Bushatz 22:40
And I love it. There's a lot of wheels turning here. And I and I trust that our listeners are feeling the same way. Because you know, a lot of folks listening to this are probably in the middle of the military move, or let's be honest, we're all at some point in the military, and they'll have a military move upcoming. And I know that you're just like feeding the fire over here with making I mean, it's a big burden, you know, and so really appreciate you giving us these tips and tricks so that we can make the next move easier. Now you go into a lot of people's houses. So I know you've seen some crazy, what is the biggest, what's the biggest mistake interior design, you know, mistake that military families make?
Maria Reed 23:32
Okay, I hope I like don't piss people off. But I think the biggest mistake that military families make it all families make is hoarding. It's so much stuff. And that's the hard part I think about being a military family is that what we have is our stuff, because we won't have this house again. So it's the stuff though the memories lie in this coffee cup, or these shot glasses that I got when we traveled from across the country. So it becomes the stuff and we tend to acquire a lot of it and don't want to let it go. So when I see a lot of the designs, it seems very tchotchke a lot of little things and a lot of those little things end up looking like clutter. But if you want to display those little things, then try to think of it more like a collection as opposed to clutter. Do we really need 94 shot glasses?
Amy Bushatz 24:36
Maria Reed 24:38
Someone might say yes, I do need those 94 shot glasses, because those were 94 moments in the last 23 years that we remember. And I love that, I do. So I try and figure out ways of how can I creatively display those that it doesn't look like just a pile of stuff. And and you know it's hard, that's not the easiest thing to do. But I what I do see with military families is that there's a lot of clutter, and I've walked into that organization seems to be one of the things that people need the most one of the makeovers that I'm working on right now, I walked into the home office yesterday and went, Oh, okay. All right. Yeah, what how are we going to do it?
Amy Bushatz 25:24
Yeah, but, but that's why you're there, you know, and we've got a separate episode talking to a home organization expert, about that thing, because these are two separate but similar subjects, right. Like, the organization has to really I mean, you guys really have to hang out -- design, organization, or it's, we're going nowhere. My problem is, is not so much organization. And I'm sure a lot of people can can resonate with this, so much as making the organization not look stupid.
Maria Reed 25:58
Oh, well. Yeah. And we've seen that that that there is everything is organized for this specific need of that organization. And then there's 14 totes. Totes are functional. Yes, they are. They are great. They're not necessarily pretty. So what can we do? How can we disguise where else might we be able to store those totes, so that when you're in that space, you don't feel overwhelmed by all the totes and you still feel like there's clutter even though it's organized clutter.
Amy Bushatz 26:35
I have been, I do not do this now, but I've been guilty in the past. Because I'm afraid like people are gonna leave this podcast thinking man, Amy's house must look terrible. It does not, we were muddling through. I just it takes me a long time to get it together guys. Okay, like, it's it's fine here. But I have been guilty in the past of hiding the totes by throwing, you know, tablecloth over them. Ooh, now it's a pretty tote.
Maria Reed 27:06
That was a pretty tote and things aren't you know, and, and I do want to say, wherever you are in your life, not pointing fingers at you. I'm just saying, wherever we are in our lives. Sometimes we have to do that. Yeah. And that's okay. And that's okay. Give yourself grace. There's nothing wrong with that. And, you know, we'll figure it out as we move along. We've all been guilty. And it was, you know, not long after we moved here. I didn't unpack at all, not not a box. Why? We knew we weren't going to be staying in the house that we were at at that moment for for, you know, more than a year. So I said, why am I going to unpacked to repack, so I'm going to unpack just what I need. And that's okay. And I gave myself grace about that. People ask me all the time your house or they say your house must look amazing. No. Have you ever heard the that was apparent, not terrible. But the phrase I guess, the shoemaker that has no shoes or the cabinet maker that has no cabinets. That's how I feel like the designer that has no design. My house is it sometimes feels like a little hodgepodge because I'm working on everyone else's house. And I have to give myself grace for that as well. Because it doesn't look you know, Instagram. Sometimes I like to call it 'fakes-ta-gram' because people take a zillion pictures to get that one and no one sees what's behind them. All the boxes in the mess. They just see this front. So you know, give yourself grace. Yes, we love the pretty pictures, but we like to especially share in our stories, all the behind the scenes of the crazy want to see what it looks like over here. This is what here's reality reality. And that's okay, too. Yeah.
Amy Bushatz 28:47
Okay, so can you offer us two or three, like really actionable decorating tips that people can remember to leverage for the next move or go out and do right now? If they're in the middle?
Maria Reed 28:59
Absolutely. So when you get to your new home, I think we want to try and make it ours, right? How do I make this my own space? Yes, you can paint walls and military housing. Many military housing offices offer pre-approved colors. So take a look at that. That's something that you can paint and paint is the lowest cost way of changing up around. It's a little bit of paint a little bit of time. And that way if you use a pre-approved color, you don't have to paint it back. Another thing that I love to do, it's a little more costly, but it makes such beautiful bold statements and it's easy to take down his removable wallpaper. You don't want to do your whole house and removable wallpaper because it will get really expensive. But if you're thinking about an accent wall or setting up especially now, during this, you know COVID times a remote office, you're homeschooling set up a space where they're going to want to sit and work at. So we can do that with fun things like even adding chalkboard removable wallpaper so they can write on it. And then when you're getting ready to PCS to the next one, Hey, you know what, just take it down, throw in the trash, and walk away. It's a little more expensive than paint obviously. But it's it's a great go to. Another actionable item that people can do quickly is finding thrift furniture or things on like Facebook marketplace. People oftentimes, especially during PCS season, they're giving it away. And they're like, here come get this free I am, you know, guilty of taking things off the curb and late night dumpster dive like, what is that, but find a piece that you can repurpose, reuse, repaint. And that can make such a big difference in your home. Especially if you're trying to add like I said earlier, stick with neutrals, but you want to add something with a proper color and not spend a lot of money. Finding a piece painted red, why not paint it aqua? Have fun with that. And that's something that people can do quickly. And then my last go to because I am not a fan of the peel and stick linoleum, schoolhouse floors that are often in military housing, area rugs, and rugs. And if you stay again, with some large scale, I'd you know, not throwing it out there. But I am throwing it out there. Ross is one of my favorite places to find rugs. You know, it's hit or miss. You got to go you know, check it out at the right time. But large area rugs under $100, $98. And they make such a difference in the room because you're definitely not looking at the peel and stick floor.
Amy Bushatz 31:39
Oh man I have for sure picked different hat like given options of housing pick the one without those disgusting floors, because 100% it was like, not cool.
Maria Reed 31:54
I just walked in, you know. And I'm like when we got our house here. And I was like no that peel and stick floor. But then it just became you know all these giant beautiful area rugs you barely even saw it. Luckily, it was a neutral floor beige. But you barely saw it. And the rugs were such a statement that, you know, it just made it made for such a beautiful space.
Amy Bushatz 32:16
Do you find that people get in over their heads with this stuff, though? Because as you're talking I'm I'm envisioning myself starting many projects and then accidentally not finishing them.
Maria Reed 32:27
Well said, yes. And that would be one of my biggest tips, start and finish, start and finish. Do it if you're starting if you're trying to do the living room, it's not let's go buy rugs for every room. No, let's buy the rug for the living room. Let's get the living room where we want it to be and work on project at a time. And I know that's hard sometimes to think about because a project at a time, you may get orders before you're done. And that's okay. That's where the grace comes in. You got this far. Awesome. Now we'll start it off at the next one. But you've got a great head start because you've got all these other items that you can bring in. So you know that it can be overwhelming because we want to get it all done. I know folks who have to unpack and set up house within two days of having PCS. That's awesome. I wish I were you, I am not. You know, and I give myself that grace. I take my time not you know, I'm not going to take two years to do it. But I do take my time set up the rooms kind of feel that layout, how do I feel in this space. And that's one thing with layout, it doesn't have to live that way. Sometimes we set the furniture down or leave it exactly where the river put it doesn't have to live there. Right? So switch it around. It's okay, live with it for like a week. If you love it great, then leave it If not, you can continue to move it until you kind of find the groove for the furniture in that new space.
Amy Bushatz 34:00
Awesome. Oh, man, those are such good tips. And I feel empowered to start and finish projects one at a time.
Maria Reed 34:08
One at a time, one at a time. And even that project might just be that one piece of furniture finding that thrift store, you know dresser, repurposing it, painting it making it beautiful. And this is what I've learned a lot, too from some other military spouses. They're like I found this piece. I made it over, but I have nowhere to put it in my house. Now what do I do with it? This is a great time to be able to gift it. Give it to someone who does need it and what you got from it was experience. You learned how to do something. And on top of it, you were able to make someone else's day by giving them a piece of furniture that you make with your heart.
Amy Bushatz 34:47
Wonderful. Maria, thank you so much for being on PCS with Military.com I appreciate it.
Maria Reed 34:53
Oh, thanks for having me. It's always great. You're pretty awesome.